Emmett Chapman: The Beginning (1936-1969)
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by Jim Reilly
A note from the author
The purpose of this brief biographical sketch of Emmett Chapman is to provide a little of the history and background on the man behind Stick Enterprises and The Chapman Stick. Obviously, most only know Emmett through his music and his instrument, but there is much more, more than the music which lead up to The Stick and continues to guide its evolution. Music and The Stick are clearly intertwined with the rest of Emmett's story. For example, Emmett has always been athletic. He is an accomplished tennis and ping-pong player. But he played ping-pong with music legend Joe Zawinul, and Zawinul bought one of the first Sticks from Emmett... It is all intertwined.
But now I want to step back from The Stick for a bit and give a little of the history behind the story. I'll try to stay away from obvious Stick references, but the astute reader will notice the threads that lead up to those parts that we all know about. As I think about it, I suspect those threads are pretty obvious. Regardless, here is a little bit of the life story that enabled the Stick story. I hope you enjoy.
Calgary, Alberta, Dec. 20, 2006
Emmett Howard Chapman was born Emmett Howard Pardee Jr. on September 28th, 1936 in Santa Barbara, California. His mother, Venetia, married Emmett Howard Pardee Sr. in 1935.
The 1930s were a difficult time both in the States and around the world. The Great Depression had not only thrown many into poverty, but also caused tremendous struggles for individuals and families alike. Emmett Sr. worked as a traveling minister with a Christian sect named Universal Reconciliation. By 1935, he had settled down and was leading his own church in Santa Barbara.
Shortly after Emmett Jr.'s birth, Venetia received a series of alarming letters from her mother in Florida. The letters spoke of great hardships and conveyed a sense of emergency. Venetia decided to go to Florida with Emmett Jr. to help her mother. This separation was the first step, which eventually lead to the Pardee's divorce a few years later.
Venetia was a professional singer. As a young boy, Emmett remembers her singing and playing guitar to him. For the next three years they lived in a tiny, one-room shack shared with Jesse Reibel (Venetia's mother, Emmett's Grandmother) near a small town called Largo. The shack sat in the middle of swampy, rural Florida lowland.
In 1942, on a trip to California, Venetia met Ulysses Laverne Chapman. Shortly after, Venetia and son, Emmett, relocated permanently to California to be with Laverne. In 1943 Laverne and Venetia married. The new family settled in Sun Valley in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. Emmett, now Emmett Howard Chapman, was seven. Laverne had two sons from a previous marriage, Jerry and Ronny, giving Emmett not only a new father but also two younger brothers. Laverne and Venetia would have one child together, a son, named Daniel Chapman, born in 1951, fifteen years Emmett's junior.